Morning Memo: Now comes the hard part on the budget

Posted by John Frank on June 13, 2014 

Twelve hours after House lawmakers gave an initial nod to the state budget, they reconvene at 8:30 a.m. Friday to give it one more vote and send it to the Senate.

All attention now turns to how the two chambers, who carved very different budget plans, will find a way to compromise. House Speaker Thom Tillis says he isn’t concerned.

Gov. Pat McCrory is likely to favor the House’s plan. It includes a number of his priorities, including a so-called “puppy mill” provision added late Thursday by a House lawmaker who partnered with First Lady Ann McCrory to bring attention to the issue.

The House also added a film grant program to the budget as a place-holder, meaning House and Senate lawmakers will need to determine how much to give the program. One of the sponsors of the House amendment said the program would kill the film industry but acknowledged in the seven-hour debate that it was as far as his Republican colleagues would go.

Two major outstanding questions: What do lawmakers do with Medicaid? The House and Senate disagreed on the potential Medicaid overrun costs, who should manage the agency and who should be covered by the care. And what about pay raises for teachers and state employees? The House and Senate found unique ways to pay for it and provided much different salary hikes.

Asked earlier this week whether the House and Senate should negotiate in public this time, Tillis said no.

For more on the House budget debate, and the discussion of using lottery money to fund salary hikes for teachers, read here.

*** It’s Friday the 13th and there’s a full moon. Watch for strange things to happen in the North Carolina political sphere. Get the latest news below in the Dome Morning Memo. ***

TODAY IN POLTICS: Gov. Pat McCrory returns to Pinehurst for the third time this week to attend the festivities at the U.S. Open golf tournament. He will attend a mayor’s reception at 7 p.m. and North Carolina Night at 9 p.m.

The House will begin final budget debate at 8:30 a.m.

THE BIG STORY -- VA WAIT TIMES IN NORTH CAROLINA SCRUTINIZED: The main reasons the VA Medical Center in Fayetteville has patients waiting too long to be seen are that it doesn’t have enough space and it struggles to recruit and retain doctors and nurses, the acting head of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said Thursday.

Sloan Gibson visited the hospital to talk with employees, veterans service organizations and members of the North Carolina congressional delegation. On Monday, the VA released the results of a national audit of its facilities that found the Fayetteville medical center had one of the longest average wait times in the country – 83 days – for new patients trying to get primary care. The average wait to see a specialist was 62 days, and to get mental health care, 27 days. ...

Sen. Kay Hagan, who had requested that Gibson visit Fayetteville, said in a statement Thursday that while he had announced some positive steps to try to reduce the wait times for veterans there, “…much work remains to be done to restore the faith of our veterans.” Read more here.

#NCSEN --- The headlines from the U.S. Senate campaign trail.

PARTISANSHIP RUNS DEEP -- From the Washington Post: It sounds like a cliche, but it’s true. Conservatives and liberals don’t just differ in their political views. They like to live in different places, associate with like-minded people, and have opposing views on the value of ethnic and religious diversity in their neighborhoods, according to a major new study by the Pew Research Center.

Political polarization is now deeply embedded in the United States — more so than at any time in recent history, according to the Pew study — and has intensified in recent years. The percentage of Americans who hold either consistently conservative or consistently liberal positions on major issues has doubled over the past decade and now accounts for one-fifth of all Americans. Read more here.

ICYMI: The 538 odds on the North Carolina Senate race remain 50-50. Read more here.

#NCGA --- A roundup of news from the N.C. General Assembly.

TODAY’S TOP STORY -- LAWSUIT ABOUT LEGISLATIVE BUILDING RULES GOES TO COURT: The state NAACP and five plaintiffs have filed a complaint in Wake County Superior Court asking for the suspension of new N.C. Legislative Building rules.

The critics of the rules, which were adopted in early May, argue in the complaint that legislators crafted the measures to “criminalize constitutionally protected conduct.” A hearing on the complaint is set for Friday morning in Wake County Superior Court. Read more here.

VOUCHER DEBATE SPARKS CIVIL RIGHTS RHETORIC: It was no shock when the Republican-dominated state House voted down a proposal Thursday to pull the $10 million budgeted for Opportunity Scholarships and shift it to classroom teachers in public schools. After all, this was the group that voted last year to offer vouchers for low-income students to attend private schools.

But the most intense support of the scholarships came from two African American Democrats who co-sponsored the bill last year. Reps. Marcus Brandon, D-Guilford, and Edward Hanes Jr., D-Forsyth, argued that colleagues opposing the vouchers are denying children an alternative to failing schools. Read more here.

PENSION SPIKING PROVISION TO RIDE IN STAND-ALONE BILL: A top House budget writer says anti-pension spiking legislation that cleared a committee last week with nothing but praise is likely headed for a vote in the full chamber next week.

House Bill 1195 prevents employees and officials who make $100,000 or more annually from using the pension system to subsidize fatter pensions through dramatic increases in their pay as they near retirement. It comes after The News & Observer reported how four community college presidents and their boards converted tens of thousands of dollars in perks into salary money and greatly enhancing their pensions. Read more here.

THE PUPPY MILL BUST MENTIONED IN THE BUDGET DEBATE: Rutherford County Animal Control on Thursday rounded up nearly 50 dogs that officers had found at a house earlier in the week but said were later dispersed over locations in two counties.

Animal Control Director Lt. Leon Godlock with the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office said that on Monday the division acted on anonymous tips about a man having more animals than he could care for properly. Read more here.

MORE ON FILM INCENTIVES: A day after threatening to leave the state, an executive at EUE/Screen Gems is singing a different tune with the inclusion of a place holder. A statement from Bill Vassar, company executive vice president: “We are grateful and deeply appreciative of the efforts of House Speaker Thom Tillis and Rep. Ted Davis (R-New Hanover), sponsor of the amendment. Their success in finding bipartisan support for the measure provides hope for this industry and the 4000-plus North Carolina film workers and small business owners that depend on film to provide for their families.”

LAWMAKERS SEEK TO BLOCK LAWSUITS IN CERTAIN COUNTIES: State lawmakers Thursday imposed a two-year moratorium on the Union, Gaston and Nash county school boards’ ability to sue county commissioners over funding disputes. The Senate approved the bill in a 30-15 vote, with the House approving it 70-42.

Republican Sen. Tommy Tucker from Union County introduced the plan as a local bill for his county. GOP Sen. Buck Newton, who represents Nash County northeast of Raleigh, offered the amendment adding the other two districts. Read more here.

#NCPOL --- More political news from North Carolina.

BERGER CAMPAIGN AD TACKLES IMMIGRATION: Phil Berger Jr. released a new radio ad earlier this week aimed at painting his Republican primary runoff opponent as weak on the immigration issue.

The spot paints Berger as “a tough prosecutor” and hits his 6th District Congressional rival Mark Walker. “My opponent Mark Walker promises to give amnesty to illegal aliens,” the 60-second spot says. “Walker supports creating a pathway to citizenship for the millions who broke the law and came to this country illegally. His legislation would only encourage more illegal immigration and would make our problem worse, not better.”

Walker’s campaign website says he opposes “all forms of immigration amnesty.” He wants to secure the nation’s borders and then overhaul the guest worker program and citizenship process, it reads.

SUPREME COURT STRIKES CELLPHONE BAN -- AP: The North Carolina Supreme Court has struck down the state’s first local ordinance banning people from using cellphones while driving.

The high court on Thursday ruled unanimously that state laws regulate highways and roads and that prohibits the town of Chapel Hill’s enforcement of the cellphone ban. Read more here.

QUICK LOOK --- More headlines from across the state.

NC lawmakers propose additional scrutiny of DSS operations statewide. Read more here.

N.C. Senate adjusts unemployment appeal board. Read more here.

A1 in Asheville: Moffitt moves to change law in wake of CTS ruling. Read more here.

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